Memories, Memoirs, and the Movies

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Last night's annual tradition of the Park Avenue Tree Lighting on the Sanctuary Steps of Brick Church. 7:05 PM.

Monday, December 4, 2023. Very mild out there it has been for the past few days. Temps reaching up to the low 50s, quite a bit of  sunshine and the general mood seems milder, as if in anticipation of the coming last ten days of this month — which for many is “the holiday time.”  One’s hopes and dreams get considered again. It’s also, we should be reminded, a time when depression moves in on a lot of us. So here’s to us; and better times in our hearts and minds.

It’s that time of the year when people send greeting cards.  At least they used to. The sending part has changed, often avoided, or sent online. Since I got into this business via the NYSD, I’ve been getting loads of cards from people who know me for that.  That began at the beginning of the century when we first published — and during the holidays we published the cards we received because people just like to look at them.  It’s mindlessly very pleasant, a break from the daily sobriety tests. I remember I liked the “tradition” when I was a kid for the same reason. I’m back where I belong.

What made me think of it was last week I received this card from Charlotte Ford. These are her grandchildren, children of her daughter Elena, and now a more recent addition by her granddaughter, also Charlotte.

But what came to mind on seeing this was all the years of Charlotte’s Christmas greetings have been the most recent photograph of her beloved grandchildren. And they’re all close to their adoring grandmother. What a beautiful message at this time of year. Something to write home about.

Grandma Charlotte with the grand-crew, taken on her property in Southampton, circa 1996.

Meanwhile, Better Times vary for person to person. However I’ve been reading more books lately. I am always reading on a daily basis watching the world. But less time for books. Part of that is they’ve been showing up at my door and lately how interesting.

Click to pre-order Addison Mizner: A Palm Beach Memoir.

This is all to lead into a new book I just received and haven’t read yet, coming into the bookstores on Tuesday, December 5th, put together by our distinguished NYSD contributor, Augustus Mayhew III.

Its title: Addison Mizner: A Palm Beach Memoir with Introduction by Alice DeLamar, and Edited by Mr. Mayhew. It is not a “new” book but instead a new look at another time — a century ago — in the America we know as Palm Beach. Otherwise it is a “memoir” of sorts by Addison Mizner. But part-memoir and part recollection of Mizner’s friends, especially Miss DeLamar, a fascinating character on her own and one of the richest American heiresses of her age.

If you don’t know who Addison Mizner was, no matter. However, there remains in the world a fairly large contingent who still recognize the name. Because he was an architect/businessman, and the real force behind the architectural development that became the style thought of to this day as “Palm Beach.”

However, a large part of the book is recounted by Alice DeLamar “Remembering Addison” about their personal relationships and observations of PB life. Mr. Mayhew as editor gives us a real sense of the movers and shakers of the day.

Alice DeLamar, 1920. Pencil sketch. Paul Thevenaz, artist (1891-1921). [Historical Society of Palm Beach County Collection]

“Both Addison and Alice DeLamar were two of Palm Beach’s most unconventional personalities whose private lives and affairs, some would think, would exclude them from membership at the Everglades Club. Never. Their standing as Palm Beach originals made them social standouts during a time when Palm Beach’s frame of mind made room for a spectrum of singular individuals.”

The book also contains 100 photos of Mizner’s Palm Beach between 1918 and 1924.

And for those of you who are already down in Palm Beach for the season (or permanently), the Historical Society of Palm Beach County is hosting the official launch party for the book on December 6th at Catherine Prevost, 34 Via Mizner.

Although we know some PBers are not known to RSVP, if you think of it:

Alice DeLamar residence, east oceanfront elevation. 1424 South Ocean Boulevard. (Demolished)

Coincidentally, I just finished another memoir of Los Angeles/Beverly Hills/Hollywood, The Corner Table: From Cabbages to Caviar, Sixty Years in the Celebrity Restaurant Trade by Kurt Niklas who is remembered for being a restaurateur (The Bistro and later the Bistro Garden) in Beverly Hills.

Niklas was born in Berlin in 1926, son of a German woman and a married man who happened to be Jewish. The boy being half Jewish fell under the “jurisdiction” of the Nazis’ government. He was basically without parents through much of his youth but he was obviously incredibly sensible in terms of taking care of himself. Although his generation were always brought up learning that.

Click to order The Corner Table: From Cabbages to Caviar, Sixty Years in the Celebrity Restaurant Trade.

By age 13 and 14, he  was working as a busboy waiter in a hotel called the Esplanade where Hitler’s military officers dined and wined and lived up to their general reputation as monsters/ bullies/egomaniacs. Hitler often lunched there also, but without “the group” and often solo (surrounded by “security” of course). Of all of them, Niklas remembers Hitler as remarkable for his quiet and even gentle manners with staff.

Niklas’ final escape from Nazi Germany came only at the very end of the War when he was assisted by a couple of American strangers, husband and wife from Pasadena in making the connections, along with funds needed to take care of himself for an extended  time to settle in. He got a job as a busboy at a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Romanoff’s.

Mr. Romanoff was a character out of a movie and it was in mid-century Hollywood, the hottest restaurant in town. Niklas’ story of his life that ensued was full of characters that we all know of the silver screen and moviedom and What It Was Really Like — good-bad-but never dull.

I couldn’t put the book down. He had a writer obviously because his stories were recounted in a way that kept your interest by  moving through his life. It’s a piece of history about the American 20th century in all its glory along with hard knuckles and The Ego who always expects to have the Corner Table.

Niklas died at age 83. It was an amazing life for an intelligent, naturally practical man who lived a life in the center of history.  The book is out of print now although when I looked it up, there was one copy someone was selling for $1,250! I’d acquired mine years ago, when it was published, and never read it until I was clearing out a shelf a couple of weeks ago. And there it was, waiting to give me the fascinating message about our country and that time, now past. Even for the movie industry. And Sidney Korshak, the man who when Niklas opened his own restaurant, chose which would be his table no matter.

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